Maintaining a healthy liver may not be a priority in your life, but it’s definitely something to be mindful of. According to a recent report from the American Cancer Society, liver cancer is increasing at a faster rate than any other cancer, and yet most people don’t know enough about their risk factors or preventative measures.
Since October is Liver Awareness month, I thought it would be fitting to pay homage to the glorious organ in our bodies that is responsible for detoxifying and burning fat. More specifically, what are some of the dietary actions we can be taking now to protect our liver?
It doesn’t take a Nutritionist to point out that the Western diet is a contributing factor to the increase in liver diseases. Obesity now trumps alcohol as one of the major causes of fatty liver disease, and studies show that liver cancer risk increases by 26% for every five point increase in one’s Body Mass Index (BMI).
That being said, making healthy lifestyle choices through the foods and beverages we consume on a consistent basis is perhaps the most effective way to manage our weight and keep the liver healthy. The following are liver healthy foods to help detoxify and nourish this vital organ of ours.
Enzyme-rich foods help boost the liver’s natural detox abilities
Fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut are a great source of live food enzymes (granted they haven’t been pasteurized) and also contain beneficial probiotics, which makes for an exceptional combination in the digestive process.
Pineapples and papayas are uniquely rich in the enzyme bromelain and papain, respectively. Both of these powerful enzymes aid the body in digestion by breaking down protein and dissolving toxins, and also contain a plethora of other health benefits that are used by practitioners to promote wound healing and prevent illness.
Kefir is a fermented beverage similar to yogurt that can be derived from any type of milk (cow, sheep, goat, soy, coconut). It contains the enzyme lactase, not to mention billions of probiotic live active cultures. If you’re a vegan or avoid dairy products in your diet all-together, coconut kefir is an excellent lactose/gluten-free option that provides many of the same benefits as dairy-based kefir with its host of beneficial bacteria, in addition to the benefits of coconut water.
Kombucha is the latest craze in the probiotic drink market, even though it’s been around for centuries in the East. Thanks to the fermentation process, it contains a large number of probiotics that naturally produce digestive enzymes which are beneficial to digestion.
Antioxidant-rich foods help neutralize free radicals that can damage liver cells
According to a study in the journal Nutrition Research, subjects who increased their daily antioxidant intake showed a 32% decrease in a key marker for liver injury.
Flavonoids are a diverse group of phytonutrients that contain powerful antioxidants which can be found in almost all fruits and vegetables. Goji berries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, strawberries and cranberries are a juicy source of flavonoids known as anthocyanins, while onions, broccoli, kale, apples, tomatoes, almonds, quinoa and sweet potatoes are a great source of another class of flavonoids known as flavonols.
The bottom line: flavonoids are the main dietary source for antioxidants, which can help to revitalize the liver from free radical damage. One of the largest sources of flavonoids can be found in green tea and black tea.
Fiber-rich foods speed up the removal of free radicals and toxins
Dietary fiber works to speed up the removal of liver harming free radicals, toxins and cholesterol, which decreases the burden on your liver and reduces oxidative stress throughout the body. In essence, when the liver is unencumbered by toxins, it becomes more efficient at performing its functions. Fiber is also known to increase bile secretion from the liver, which assists with fat digestion and helps prevent liver disease.
Inadequate fiber intake is a widespread problem throughout North America, with the average American getting less than half of their daily recommended intake. Beans, peas, lentils, raspberries, barley, buckwheat, avocados are just some of the nutritious and filling options to get your dietary fiber from.
Thou shall not take thy liver for granted
The liver is the most important detoxifier of all the organs with its ability to counteract poisons. And while alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs and preservatives can take its toll over time, it’s possible to prevent liver damage with exercise and a diet rich in enzymes, antioxidants and fiber. Juices like wheatgrass, beet, carrot, lemon, grapefruit, apple, and spinach are another great way to alleviate burdens on the liver, in addition to herbal teas like golden seal, mandrake, cascara sagrada, black cohosh and bitterroot.
The bottom line: the liver is an incredibly resilient organ that has the capability to regenerate itself. It exists to protect us from harm, so providing it with nourishing foods and beverages can only help to keep things in check and functioning optimally.
R.I.P to Davie Bowie who passed away of liver cancer in 2016.
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